Home » London Theatre Reviews » Howerd’s End by Mark Farrelly at The Golden Goose Theatre | Review

Howerd’s End by Mark Farrelly at The Golden Goose Theatre | Review

Howerd's End - Frankie Howerd played by Simon Cartwright and Dennis Heymer played by Mark Farrelly - Photo Jacky Summerfield.
Howerd’s End – Frankie Howerd played by Simon Cartwright and Dennis Heymer played by Mark Farrelly – Photo Jacky Summerfield.

Given that neither Frankie Howerd OBE (1917-1992) (Simon Cartwright) and his partner Dennis Heymer (1929-2009) (Mark Farrelly) are no longer with us, it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that Howerd’s End is essentially a collection of memories from experiences from a generation ago, and before. Heymer was a 29-year-old sommelier at the Dorchester Hotel, on London’s Park Lane, when he came across Howerd (or, as this play would have it, Howerd came across Heymer). Howerd was, as dramatized in this production, distinctly uncomfortable about how open Heymer was about being gay. This was, mind you, the 1950s, and while the Wolfenden Report concluded in 1957 that “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence”, it was another decade before ‘homosexual acts’ were decriminalised.

This is, perhaps understandably, given Howerd’s anxieties about even the idea of his blossoming relationship with Heymer becoming public knowledge, an issue explored in some depth in this steadily paced production. It’s Heymer’s perspective that is emphasised, despite the show’s title, which is – genuine spoiler alert this time – in part what the show is trying to say: there are plenty of people who remember Frankie Howerd, or at least his public persona, but not nearly as many could describe Dennis Heymer in great detail.

There was a telling familiarity amongst members of the audience at the performance I attended, who recognised instantly Cartwright’s spot-on portrayals of Howerd, including his facial expressions, punchlines and stock phrases. There’s plenty of material to choose from, of course, given a career that spanned six decades, and I rather liked his address to the Oxford Union, in which he quipped, “You’re all students, so naturally to you, I’m not what you call an academic. And no way at all could you call me an intellectual. Which is why I feel so much at home here tonight.” He may have been considered ‘saucy’ in his heyday, but by modern standards – ooh, Howerd was tame, very tame.

One does sympathise with Heymer, who didn’t share Howerd’s acute insecurity, and general attitudes towards homosexuality being what they were, found himself continuing to live with someone who was actively taking steps to purge himself of homosexual tendencies. There’s a smattering of audience interaction, though the front row was spared the usual treatment that comedians of today give front-row patrons.

The production does well to strike a balance between the laughter and – for want of a better word, the pain: Howerd was not, as this production would have it, in any way deliberately difficult or obtuse, but he was a complex character. This isn’t, therefore, your run of the mill ‘tears of a clown’ story, and the play’s conclusion, while perhaps a little contrived, is a decent attempt at trying to bring some sort of closure to some of Howerd’s personal unresolved issues.

From a technical standpoint, the show flows very smoothly, with sound effects impeccably timed. I must admit that I had no idea that Howerd had various personal ‘demons’ (inverted commas mine) to wrestle with, so the show is enlightening in that regard. Although the pace could have been a little faster in places, this proved to be a fascinating insight into the life and times of a leading comedy figure.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Frankie Howerd was one of Britain’s most loved comedians for half a century. But he had a secret. And the secret’s name was Dennis.

This brand new play by Mark Farrelly (Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope) takes you to the heart of Frankie and Dennis’ clandestine relationship, which lasted from the 1950s until Frankie’s death in 1992. It also affords a glorious opportunity to encounter Frankie in full-flight stand-up mode.

Packed with laughter, but unafraid of truth, Howerd’s End portrays two humans’ journey through closeness, love, grief, and all the other things that make life worth living. Come and say farewell to a legend…and learn the art of letting go.

HOWERD’S END by Mark Farrelly
Starring Simon Cartwright as Frankie Howerd and Mark Farrelly as Dennis Heymer

Golden Goose Theatre
146 Camberwell New Road
Camberwell
London, SE5 0RR
Tuesday 27 October – Saturday 31 October, 2020

Author

Scroll to Top